8 South Asian LGBTQ+ Icons You Should Know
Nila is a freelance journalist and Clinical Psychology Doctoral student…
The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of fighting for justice against discrimination, hate crimes, and prejudice. With a lack of education and awareness, South Asian community LGBTQ+ kids, especially have struggled to find their place in the world.
Trying to understand your identity is hard enough, and then to feel like the people you love most will hate you for who you are is a heartbreaking emotion I hope no one has to face. Finding your true self, coming out, and celebrating who you are is a beautiful emotion that needs to be celebrated. For those who don’t know, June is Pride Month, a month that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. June is Pride month in honor of the Stonewall riots in New York City which took place on June 28th, 1969.
In the 1950s and 1960s, discrimination and homophobia were at its height in the United States, with the community facing legal and social repression. Organizations supporting the community began taking shape and coordinated demonstrations to remind Americans that the LGBTQ+ community didn’t even have the basic civil rights protections as others. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, Manhattan that police raided one Saturday early morning in June and the situation became very violent. The event marked a change in the community that pushed them to unite in an attack on the government through marches, organizations spreading awareness, creating newspapers for the LGBTQ+ community, and more.
Just a year later began annual Gay Pride marches that we still see today. Homosexuality was even seen as a mental illness by doctors and psychologists until the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Though laws have changed over time providing equal rights to the community in America, in South Asian countries, the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for their basic rights today.
Section 377 criminalizes any sexual acts that “go against the order of nature,” meaning being yourself could mean time in jail. This law was just repealed in 2018, a major moment of progress for the community in India but it has taken much too long. Is it any wonder that the South Asian diaspora still fears coming out? Is it such a surprise that in 2020, kids still fear to tell their parents their truth?
In a confusing time as this, we have some icons that we’d like to honor this month for having the courage to not only come out to their loved ones but to the entire world. They have placed their life under a microscope due to their fabulous careers and shown the world a vulnerable side of themselves. We are honored that these individuals are living their best life being proud LGBTQ+ and keeping us a part of it!
Check out these icons that you must know!
Tan France, born Tanvir Wasim Safdar, is absolutely the most gorgeous human you will ever see. This “Queer Eye” star is an author, fashion designer, stylist, reality star, and activist. He has sold off two successful companies, wrote two books, hosts Netflix’s “Next in Fashion” and the web series “Dressing Funny,” and uses his powers to advocate for loving the skin you’re in through his Instagram page, “Shaded.” This Pakistani-British star just became an American citizen as well! In all his work he has often spoken of how hard it was to come out in a conservative Muslim, Pakistani family. He has spoken how difficult his journey to self-acceptance, happiness, and even love has been.
Lilly Singh is a well known YouTube personality who has also created music through her comedy acts, acted in some films, and made the giant leap to television star with her late-night show, “A Little Late with Lilly.” The comedian and host opened up about her sexuality on Instagram to her fans and we absolutely love her pride and love for the community. She is the only LGBTQ+ woman of color on late night, she is breaking barriers by just being unapologetically herself.
Manvendra Singh Gohil
In a world of politicians, this Indian Prince is showing the world how it’s done. Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is the first openly gay Indian prince. He is the heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat. What most people don’t know is that the prince had an arranged marriage in 1991 to Chandrika Kumari but they divorced just after a year sending him into a deep depression which forced him to identify with his true self. When the prince came out publicly in 2006 his mother took out an ad in the local newspaper disowning him, while some hated him others praised him for his courage. Gohil states it took a decade for his mom to learn more about the community and accept him.
He has used his power to influence change, has appeared on “Oprah” numerous times regarding his advocacy work, and has also spread awareness on “Keeping up with the Kardashians” after he and Kendall Jenner became friends when she shot for Vogue India. Gohil founded The Lkashya Trust, an organization educating the community on HIV/AIDS prevention and he donated a 15-acre pink palace to be converted into a clinical center and shelter for those in need, especially the large LGBTQ+ homeless population.
Vikram Seth is a talented novelist and poet from West Bengal, who has been awarded honors – from literary awards to the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honor in India. He’s written 8 poetry books and 3 novels, his 1993 novel, “A Suitable Boy” being one of the most popular. Seth openly identifies as bisexual and has often spoken out about injustices in the LGBTQ+ community through interviews and his work. He wrote a poem titled “Through Love’s Great Power” in reaction to the criminalization of homosexuality in India. He was a strong advocate to remove Section 377 law in India.
Andy Lalwani, is a half Indian comedian and the host of the YouTube web series”What’s Trending?” Lalwani started his own YouTube channel while in college as he was working through his own sexuality and found himself on YouTube with LGBTQ+ stars that sounded like but none that looked like him. Being a person of color, it was difficult for him to find his place but representation was important to him, so he created a space for himself and those like him. He moved out to Los Angeles, California two years ago and is already making strides to improve representation. He was just featured in Forever 21’s first-ever PRIDE campaign! Fun fact – Lalwani is a huge fan of another icon on our list, Tan France. Lalwani even dressed as France for Halloween back in 2018!
Indian-American actor Maulik Pancholy publicly came out as gay to Out Magazine in 2013. In 2014 he married his partner of 9 years, chef and caterer Ryan Corvaia. Pancholy has made quite a name for himself in Hollywood. He’s starred in shows like “Weeds,” “30 Rock” and “Whitney.” Pancholi has voiced characters on children’s shows like “Phineas and Ferb,” “Mira, Royal Detective,” and is the lead in “Sanjay and Craig.” He’s also written a book for pre-teens, “Best At It,” which is about a young gay Indian American kid finding himself. Pancholy is active in his work within the South Asian community and the LGBTQ+ community and works with organizations like OutRight Action International, an organization that addresses human rights violations and abuses against the LGBTQ+ community.
Jameela Jamil is a British actress of Indian and Pakistani descent. She is also a television host and activist that has been constantly educating and fighting for all of us. From unattainable beauty standards for women, equality for Black lives, and of course, LGBTQ+ rights, Jamil has been very vocal about changing the perspective and challenging society’s norms. She has recently come out on Instagram post as bisexual or pansexual after she faced backlash for being cast as a judge on the HBO show, “Legendary.” The dance reality show is about underground ballroom dancing, a dance form created by the Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities. Jamil stated that she always struggled with her feelings because it’s unacceptable within the South Asian community and didn’t have anyone within her family that was openly out.
Alok Vaid Menon
Alok Vaid Menon is a fashionista that is fighting transphobia one fierce Instagram post at a time. They are educating others through their work as a writer, performer, speaker, and social media influencer. Menon is de-gendering fashion, fighting for equal treatment of all genders and races, and working to educate the public. Their posts are insightful and powerful as there is so much trauma faced by the trans population and so many thought-provoking issues that need to be heard. Menon is currently engaged in a digital tour promoting their book, “Beyond the Gender Binary” with interviews with stars like Jameela Jamil, Demi Lovato, Lachlan Watson, Matt McGorry, Laverne Cox, and so many more.
Nila is a freelance journalist and Clinical Psychology Doctoral student who was born and raised in New York City. There is very little she loves more than Harry Potter marathons, pizza, 90s Bollywood, bagels, falooda, and her family. She hopes to use her powers for good by spreading mental health awareness and positivity in the South Asian community through her love of writing.